Bronx Week: A Little Home For Puerto Rican Culture Becomes A Melrose Landmark
As NY1 celebrates Bronx Week, attention shifts to one of the oldest community gardens rooted in the borough. NY1's Shazia Khan filed the following report.
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The beat goes on at Rincon Criollo, a community garden that blossomed into a cultural center in the Melrose section of the Bronx.
"It's very important for us to have a piece of land away from our land," says one community member.
Under the shadow of brick buildings lies a patch of Puerto Rico, where grape vines offer shade and sounds of plena y bomba move feet.
"I feel very proud to be able to bring our culture to this city of skyscrapers," says Jose "Chema" Soto, the founder of Rincon Criollo, which in Spanish loosely translates to "our corner."
At the heart of Rincon Criollo is a casita, the house that Chema built.
"I was born in a small, humble house like this one and this brings me memory about my grandmother, and that was my biggest motive," says Soto.
It was 1976 when Soto first imagined his vision in a trash-filled, abandoned city lot on a nearby block.
Soto and others cleared the lot, built a casita and cultivated a garden and a community which, starting in the late 1990s, found itself in the middle of a ground war. With the city's economy on the uptick, it sought to reclaim the property for housing.
With the help of the not-for-profit community group Nos Quedamos, Rincon Criollo relocated to a site on the corner of 157th Street and Brook Avenue.
Rincon Criollo Casita de Chema may be the first of its kind in the Bronx but it's not the only one. Many more casitas have popped up in the area, including some Jose Soto helped to build.
So Melrose continues to grow, one casita at a time.
"I'm not even Puerto Rican. I'm from the Dominican Republic but I feel like this is my home and everybody welcomes you," says one community member.
"You can't go by. You have to stop and take a peek," says another.
Many stop to listen as well.